The Northern Lights of Costume Jewelry | January 30th, 2014

Have you ever had the opportunity to see the Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis? If you have been on a trip to Alaska, Canada, or Norway where they occur most frequently, you may very well have seen them and marked it down as one of the most extraordinary events you have ever witnessed.

Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska – Northern Lights shines above Bear Lake; US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Strang

In 1621, French philosopher and scientist Pierre Gassendi named this phenomenon Aurora Borealis after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora. Boreas is the Greek name for the god of the north wind. It is from the stream of ions traveling through the solar wind that auroras are made.

Green is the most common of all auroras. Following behind it in this order is pink, a combination of light green and red, pure red, yellow, and lastly, blue.

In 1939, the Swarovski company was required to manufacture binoculars and other optical products for the military during the war. The scientific process they developed for a blue metallic coating for Swarovski’s optical lenses sparked the idea to make a crystal stone more radiant.

They experimented in 1953 with the vaporization of metal in a vacuum, coating each stone with a micro-thin metal sheet. The process was meant to replicate the effect of the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.

By 1955, Manfred Swarovski, the grandson of the founder, Daniel Swarovski, perfected the magnificent rainbow stone which they named Aurora Borealis or AB. The same lustrous rainbow of color in the Northern Lights could now also be seen radiating from a glass bead or rhinestone that had been treated with this coating.

In these photos of a beautiful AB pin from the 1950s, you can see how the rhinestones radiate color differently, depending upon the direction of the pin’s angle toward the light:

Swarovski worked closely with French fashion designer Christian Dior in the design of jewelry with these stones. Dior was looking for something special to complement his new look in fashion…stylishly feminine clothes for the new woman of a brand new era. The beautiful AB rhinestones and glass beads began to be incorporated into the creation of necklaces, earrings, bracelets, pins, and brooches for Dior.

Women loved costume jewelry with these unusual AB stones. They not only radiated the external light but also the color of the clothing being worn. In the beginning, only the wealthy could afford jewelry made with AB stones until the license was permitted for use by other manufacturers. Once plastic beads with this finish became fashionable, the jewelry became more affordable for the general public.

The glory of using Aurora Borealis rhinestones and beads in jewelry remained popular until it slowly faded during the mid-1960s. People who collect and wear quality AB jewelry today look for pieces made in the 1950s.

Repurposed 1950s Aurora Borealis vintage ring

Kimberly Moore is a blogger, speaker, and author of Beauty in a Life Repurposed and Kingdom Sparkle. To learn more, visit her website at

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